On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we can’t think of a more inspiring woman than India’s fastest one, 19 years old Dutee Chand, who has been courageously fighting against years of gender prejudice for the right to compete in the women’s athletic events. The strong woman athlete from Orissa refused to accept the verdict that sports bodies thrust on her for her natural body condition, and decided to put up a fight. Here’s her amazing story of struggles and small victories.
Dutee belongs to a modest weaving family in Orissa with limited means. Inspired by the success of her sister, Saraswati Chand, Dutee took to the track events with great enthusiasm. Dutee had a sterling career in junior athletics with the rare distinction of reaching the finals of the 100 metre event in the World Youth Athletics meet in 2013. The same year, Dutee won the crown of India’s fastest women in the national championships at Ranchi. The world was her oyster and age was on her side. Indian fans were looking forward to hailing a new athletics star.
A Swift Fall – But not from Grace?
But little did Dutee know that she would find herself enmeshed in the complex world of gender determination and of rules made by sports bodies on the basis of scientific analysis and not human feelings.
On July 12, 2014, Dutee Chand was unceremoniously pulled out from the India continent going for the Commonwealth Games. After subjecting Dutee to a battery of tests and without providing her with any background or information, the Indian sports officials sent her home.
Dutee was informed about the issue much later. She was diagnosed with a condition known as ‘hyperandrogenism’ (excess of androgens, which in this case meant excessive testosterone) and hence deemed ineligible to participate.
The background to this ruling was a decision in 2011 by the IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation) to test for excessive testosterone as a means to determine the eligibility of contestants for participating in women’s athletics events.
Suddenly, for a naturally occurring condition in her body, Dutee was left to face social stigma and ostracism. There was nothing that Dutee had done or could do to correct this anomaly, and yet she was deemed to be the guilty party and was pulled out of the Commonwealth games contingent.
From winning laurels for the country this young girl had to seek solace in taking up work with her employer, the Indian Railways. From punching her air ticket for foreign lands and international athletic meets, she was instead punching tickets at a Mumbai railway station.
A History of Gender Testing
Dutee is not the first to come under such scrutiny. Caster Semenya of South Africa and Pinki Pramanik and Santhi Soundarajan of India have had to face public humiliation after failing what were known earlier as gender tests. Most of these athletes went with the tide. The gender scrutiny being too much to handle, they hung up their shoes or undertook surgery to limit testosterone production.
Dutee too was given the option to return to the track on the condition that she takes hormone suppressing drugs or gets a surgery done to limit testosterone production. Dutee turned down the offer.
Dutee Chand, chose to take the road less traveled – and instead challenged the basis of such a law. Given her need to maintain financial security, it would have been an easy decision to cave in to the needs of a law that was ironically drafted to ensure fair competition in the women’s events. Instead Dutee maintained that (as reported by NYTimes),
“I feel that it’s wrong to have to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone.”
A key difference from previous cases in India was the sensitivity with which it was eventually handled by SAI (Sports Authority of India), led by Jiji Thomson and the support she received almost immediately from researcher and activist, Payoshini Mitra.
Thomson ensured that Payoshini was able to mentor and counsel Dutee Chand and provided her with strong organizational support from SAI. With support from Thomson and Payoshini Mitra, Dutee challenged the verdict against her by filing an appeal to CAS in October. CAS reviewed her case and on December 21st, an interim order was passed by them allowing Dutee Chand to participate in domestic meets in India.
Dutee could run again.
And once again she ran with great success. After the December 21st ruling, she got only five days to prepare for the Orissa state meet but she still came through with flying colours! In 12 seconds, Dutee claimed the right to represent Orissa in the National Games.
A National Champion Again
In the National Games in February this year, after seven months in the wilderness, Dutee reclaimed her sprinting title with a timing of 11.76 in the women’s 100 metre event.
While Dutee still awaits the final judgement from CAS, there is little doubt about her courage and ability to face the situation on her own terms. She is indeed a 21st Century heroine, brave and yet sensible, unbending and unflinching against adversity and yet comfortable in her own skin and body.
“Women are women irrespective of their natural testosterone level. It’s not like Dutee’s cheating and she shouldn’t be discriminated against because of the way nature made her.”
– Tony Briffa, Australia
Dutee loves to race and is a sprinter. This time she has chosen to run a marathon. And on the occasion of International Women’s Day, we can all join together to tell her that she does not “Run Alone”. You can support Dutee on her website here and on her Facebook page here .
CAS will be making a final decision on her eligibility for international competition around March 25, 2015 and we hope they do their duty towards Dutee with fairness.